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Sunset over Il Caggio
March 8th was our last full day in Tuscany, but by now we had visited all of the towns and sights that were priorities, and we still had a lot of chores to do. So we stayed at the villa for most of the day. Cameron and Joss had a lot of fun playing on the grounds; they made "grappling hooks" out of sticks and string and climbed around on the stone walls. Russell and Gail struggled further with the luggage, and ultimately we were able to completely do away with our large food box by stuffing the contents into our various suitcases. We had a last meal of cooked pasta for lunch, then ate up the week's leftovers for dinner.
Cameron and Joss playing among the olive trees and grape vines
Dawn, David, and Keegan took advantage of their last full day by driving east to Gubbio, a hilltown in Umbria where the ancient Romans used to send all of their lunatics. Gubbio was very scenic, but unfortunately it was also a two-hour drive away (back towards Assisi). By the time Dawn and David got there, everything was closed for the afternoon (most establishments in Italy close for lunch between 1:00 and 4:00 PM), and didn't open again until just about the time they had to depart for their two-hour drive back. Unfortunately, they also spent a late night up packing.
On March 9th we had an unusually early check-out time -- 9:00 AM -- but we had gotten a head start by packing up the car the night before. After check-out (by keeping the heat turned way down, we had gotten away with using only 42 hours of gas for the entire week), the two halves of the family split up for the day. The Miller/Schaefers were off to Firenze to return their rental car, then take an afternoon train from Firenze to our next destination of Venezia (Venice). The World Trippers, on the other hand, would drive the entire way.
The drive from Siena to Venezia normally takes 3-4 hours by autostrada, but we had to check out of one villa by 9:00 AM and would not be able to check into the next one until 5:00 PM -- a span of 8 hours. Rather than hang around in Tuscany any longer, we decided to head directly east to the Adriatic Sea, then drive up Italy's east coast all the way to Venezia. This turned out to be a disappointment, as this section of Italy's east-coast highway is not scenic at all; in fact, we could barely see the Adriatic through all of the buildings between the road and the coast. On the other hand, we did get to visit Italy's east-central Marches region -- "march" or "mark" once referred to an outlying area of the ancient Roman Empire. We passed by a number of interesting towns, including Fabriano (one of Europe's first paper-producing towns, where the watermark was invented), and Ancona (a port town once described by James Joyce as a "filthy hole: like rotten cabbage").
Crossing Italy and the Apennini (Apennine Mountains)
After getting stuck behind a lot of trucks, making a few wrong turns, and ultimately giving up on the backcountry roads to join the superstrada, we finally entered Venezia at 4:30 PM, an hour later than our 3:30 PM target. (Automobiles are not allowed in Venezia -- the only way to get around is on foot or by boat -- and we figured that it would take us a considerable amount of time to park our car and haul all of our luggage to the villa.)
We left our car at a long-term parking lot near the Tronchetto pier (another Rick Steves recommendation). Every guide book we've read says never to leave anything in your car in Italy, but we really had no choice. Rather than try to cover any of our boxes up, we left the books and cooking equipment completely open and exposed in the back of the station wagon, hoping that any potential thieves would see nothing of value. We said goodbye to the car for a week, crossed our fingers, and proceeded on with our four backpacks, five rolling suitcases, camera bag, computer bag, and duffel bag full of stuffed animals.
Fortunately, the vaporetto (water bus) stop was only a five-minute walk away. Cameron and Joss were quite fascinated to board and take a boat in the same fashion that we normally take a bus. We were befriended by an Italian man who went very much out of his way to help us find the correct vaporetto boat number, direction, and departure point. This was extremely helpful, as the written directions supplied by rentvillas.com had a few errors (as usual):
Cameron and Joss enjoy their first vaporetto ride in Venezia
We have had enough experience with bad directions by now that we were fairly quickly able to figure out what we were supposed to do and where we were supposed to go. By 6:00 PM we had arrived at the villa, where we had to lug our incredibly heavy suitcases up two flights of stairs. We were met by Signora Ferialdi, an Italian woman who spoke not one word of English. While our paperwork had said we should bring a security deposit of 258,000 lire (roughly 130€), her paperwork said that we were supposed to bring 258€. Needless to say, we didn't have enough cash with us. While Signora Ferialdi proceeded to show Gail how to operate the appliances using sign language, Russell went back out to find a bancomat.
Just has he approached the vaporetto stop, Russell saw Dawn, David, and Keegan about to head in the wrong direction for six blocks. They had enough Euros to cover the balance of the security deposit, and we all returned to the villa (Russell got to carry another backpack). We were finally able to finish checking in.
(Dawn and David had spent their morning in Firenze until their 2:00 PM train. They had even returned to the Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori for lunch, where the owner greeted them like family and fed them some lasagne that he had just made. On the train itself, Keegan completely charmed his fellow Italian passengers.)
Our new villa -- "Gondola" -- is not actually on the island of Venezia. Rather, it is on a neighboring island, La Giudecca, which is quieter and less touristy, while still possessing a Venetian charm. The apartment looks like a converted upper-floor warehouse; the living room is literally large enough to play a game of basketball in. As Gail remarked, "this place makes the apartment in Rome look itty-bitty." Dawn and David were pleased to see that it is completely furnished with Ikea furniture. There is also a balcony that overlooks the surrounding courtyards and rooftops (as well as everyone's laundry). On the other hand, the walls are paper-thin, and the open space means that everything echoes very loudly (not good when you have a baby).
Gondola: a living room large enough to play a game of basketball in
As we do every Saturday on arrival, Russell and David set out to find enough groceries to last us until Monday. We found the local Coop mercato -- at the end of an unmarked back alley arround a blind curve -- by following people with bags and asking a lot of questions in broken Italian.
After a dinner of frozen pizza (the World Trippers) and cicchetti (the Miller/Schaefers), everyone settled in for the evening. Cameron and Joss broke out their Lego; Dawn, David, and Keegan retired early and exhausted; Russell was happy to set his PC up somewhere besides the kitchen table; and Gail enjoyed relaxing in the first bathtub we've had in weeks.
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